Books: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

More book grief. Zachary Mason’s “The Lost Books of the Odyssey” is that rare thing: a retelling of a classic that holds you in its grip just as the original did. Will Odysseus survive the war? Will he finally return home to Ithaca? Will Penelope be waiting?

base_mediaMason offers alternate tellings and endings for the Trojan War and Odysseus’ life. Achilles is “reborn” in clay, and continues his ruthless fighting. Odysseus never goes home. Penelope marries another. Penelope is dead. Ithaca is abandoned. Revisiting Troy, Odysseus finds a carnival town for tourists, his shield remade as a cheap souvenir.

I found myself weeping, more than once, while reading these tales. Incredible, to be moved again and again by these characters! Credit Mason, who is never glib or jokey. His tone is majestic, befitting these great ancient tales. I easily bought into the book’s conceit: because “The Odyssey” was from an oral tradition, there were many other tellings and retellings, additions, subtractions. This novel is those “lost” and now found books.

And in this age of Kindle, I particularly enjoyed holding this book in my hands, tucking it into my bag. It’s tiny: short and thin, with a white paper cover that features a warrior etched in red and black lettering mixed with silver discs, for the words’ O’s. While I was reading it other people wanted to touch it, or picked it up when I’d put it down.

With so many wondrous tales retold, this story could go on and on and on. I was sorry to come to its end.

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